MENTOR, Ohio – A crowd of silent strangers look in all directions, waiting patiently for one man and the pitter-patter of little feet.
“Do you know what they look like?” asked Tonya Ross, organizing the crowd.
“Oh no,” said the woman next to her.
“It’s exciting. We’ll know them when it happens.”
They may not know Daniel Lewis personally, but when he walked toward the crowd, cheers erupted and cameras clicked.
Lewis, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, was being recognized by Sears through the “Heroes at Home” program.
“My heart started beating,” said Sgt. Lewis. “I’ve been in combat, but I’m a little more nervous about this for some reason.”
The Heroes at Home Wish Registry reaches out to families of those who’ve served,” said Nina Skiba, Sears Store operations manager at the Great Lakes Shopping Center.
“The program’s been with us for five years,” Skiba said. “It’s raised $17 million and helped 83,000 military families. Such a great program. Feels so good to do this.”
Late Monday morning, the store presented Lewis and his family several home appliances and a $500 gift card for his service, which has spanned over the past 15 years.
Lewis joined the Marines in 1997, and eventually served in the Army, following the footsteps of his late father. He’s been deployed overseas six times, which has taken a toll on his family.
“The gifts? I think my family deserves it,” he said. “They’re just as big a part of it as I am. I’m just doing my job. As cliché as it sounds, that’s what I signed up for. I don’t feel like I deserve anything.”
The military has separated Lewis from his Painesville family, including missing the first year of his youngest child’s life. Lewis has six little girls, ranging from 2 to 12 years old. He and his wife, Michelle, are expecting a boy by next year.
After returning from Iraq this past year, Lewis has struggled to find work. He commutes between the Army barracks in Maryland
But, of all the gifts this year, Lewis hopes to find permanent work so he can be close to his loved ones, especially for the holidays.
“I’ve been unemployed. I’ve been homeless. If anything, it made my family stronger,” Lewis said. “Thank you’s not even…I mean how do you describe that. I’m completely overwhelmed. Like I said, I don’t deserve this. Just thank you guys so much.”
The Heroes at Home program is collecting donations until Friday, Nov. 16.